In Memoriam of Dr. Ruth Shirey

Dr. Ruth Shirey (1942-2015) – Faculty member, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Department of Geography & Regional Planning, 1970-2007; Executive Director, National Council for Geographic Education, 1988-2002.

Ruth I. Shirey, a professor emerita in the Department of Geography & Regional Planning at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP), and an expert and authority on geography education, died unexpectedly and suddenly at her home in Indiana, Pennsylvania on Friday, February 20, 2015. She was 72.

A tour-de-force in geography education in Pennsylvania and the United States, Shirey served as the executive director of the National Council for Geographic Education (NCGE) from 1988 to 2002, simultaneously coordinating efforts to develop and implement national geography education standards in cooperation with teaching colleagues from across the education spectrum. In the early 1990s, she served as project administrator for the National Geography Standards Project, a groundbreaking effort that led to the articulation of content standards for geography education nationwide. She also served as the coordinator of the Pennsylvania Geographic Alliance during this same time period, conceiving and organizing geography teaching workshops for educators from across Pennsylvania. Because of her tireless work, Ruth was very well known and admired among geographers in the United States and internationally, and was honored with the Association of American Geographers Ronald F. Abler Distinguished Service Award (2013), the George J. Miller Award for Distinguished Service from the National Council for Geographic Education (1996), and the Pennsylvania Geographical Society’s Distinguished Service Award (2001).

At Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Shirey was a faculty member in the Department of Geography & Regional Planning from 1970 to 2007. She provided leadership as department chair of Geography & Regional Planning from 1977 through 1988, and interim associate dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences from 1987 to 1989. Her excellence at IUP was recognized by the Graduate School for Outstanding Commitment to Sponsored Programs in 1996, and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, which awarded her for Outstanding Service in 1998-1999. In 2008, after her retirement, IUP honored Professor Shirey with a Distinguished Alumni Award for achievements in academia and for contributions to geography education, research and administration. Over her thirty seven year career, Dr. Shirey wrote numerous articles and books on geography education, and was awarded more than $1.8 million in external grant funds.     

Shirey received her B.A. from IUP in 1965 before completing an M.A. and Ph.D. in geography from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, in 1968 and 1970, respectively.  She began her teaching career at the Tennessee Technological University in 1968-69 before returning to IUP in 1970 to become a faculty member.  

Ruth was known for her passion for the role of women in science and academia, and for many years, even after her retirement, served as the chair for the Society of Women Geographers Fellowship Award Committee. While on the faculty, she was known for inviting international students to her home for holiday meals, and for making them feel welcome at IUP while far away from home. She was very proud of her role on the “Committee to Save John Sutton Hall” in the 1970s, which played a pivotal role in preserving the building which is the focal point of the IUP campus today. Until her untimely death, she continued her active community life through work with the League of Women Voters and the Indiana County Democratic Party, as well as her association with Department of Geography & Regional Planning, most recently assisting with fundraising for the department’s facilities in a new building.

Ruth Shirey will be greatly missed by her colleagues at IUP, her many students, and by all those in the geography community whom she has inspired. She will be remembered for her groundbreaking accomplishments in geography education, her many contributions to the Department of Geography & Regional Planning, and her dedication to Indiana University of Pennsylvania.